North Dakota rescinds coronavirus quarantine order for close contacts of known COVID-19 cases

Breaking from federally recommended guidelines, North Dakota will no longer require close contacts of known coronavirus cases to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Interim State Health Officer Paul Mariani announced the order was rescinded in a news release on Thursday.

“This pandemic remains a threat. Nationally, 2.9% of reported COVID-19 cases have resulted in death. While that percentage is just over 1% in North Dakota thanks to strong coronavirus response efforts at the state and local levels, cases continue to rise and our state is on track for a record number of deaths of individuals with COVID-19 in September,” Mariani said in a statement. “While this order is being rescinded, we continue to stress the importance of quarantining and isolation to bend the curve back in the right direction in North Dakota. Whenever possible, all close contacts of individuals infected with COVID-19 should avoid contact with others for 14 days past the last day they were in contact with the person who tested positive.”

The now-rescinded order expanded on an existing quarantine order that only required household contacts of a known COVID-19 patient to self-quarantine, according to the news release.  Prior to its reversal, the expanded order required close contacts of COVID-19 cases — or those who were within 6 feet of an infected individual “when the cumulative exposure equals fifteen minutes with a 24 period starting two days before illness onset, or two days prior to specimen collection for asymptomatic patients, until the time the patient is isolated” — to quarantine for 14 days. Those who defied the order could face criminal charges.

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The expanded order, which followed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), faced public backlash, with officials choosing to rescind it “given the public reaction and intense hostility to the penalty provision,” Nicole Peske, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Department of Health, told the Grand Forks Herald. 

State politicians lobbied Republican Gov. Doug Burgum’s office on Thursday to reverse the order, which was made the day prior, the newspaper reported. Many lawmakers and constituents argued it represented “an overreach” by the state government.

“From the beginning, our approach to this pandemic has emphasized personal responsibility and a light touch of government, as evidenced by the fact that we’re one of the most open states, with schools and universities back in session, the economy open and the nation’s sixth-lowest unemployment rate,” Burgum said in a statement.

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“Given the nature of this disease, it takes community collaboration to bend the curve, and in many counties right now as we reach record cases and positive rates, the curve is going the wrong direction. We need a light touch of government with more local leadership and collaboration, and we feel we can better support those efforts by working more closely with local public health and community leaders to identify mitigation strategies that will work and be supported in each community.”

The news comes as the Peace Garden State in the last week has led the nation with the highest number of new COVID-19 cases per capita, according to estimates from the New York Times.

Overall, there are more than 3,500 people in the state known to have a COVID-19 infection, according to Friday estimates, marking “the seventh time in the last eight days the state has reached a new record in active cases,” the Grand Forks Herald reported.